Optimal Online PDF Export Preset

Quick version:

Start with “Smallest File Size,” turn on “Tagged PDF,” “Hyperlinks,” “Bookmarks,” “View after export,” adjust compression settings to optimal (aim for “High” quality), save preset.

Settings File Location:

PDF export presets have the .joboptions extensions and are saved in the following locations:
Win: Users/[username]/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Adobe PDF/Settings
Mac: User/[username]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe PDF/Settings

note: the AppData and Library folders are hidden by default and must be revealed. 

Long version:

InDesign ships with several built-in PDF export Presets. InDesign CS5-CS6 also has 2 different PDF export options—PDF (Print) and PDF (Interactive)—which offer very different option screens. For beginning users this is all quite overwhelming. Let’s walk through it.

Start by going to File: Export. You will be presented with your first dilemma: there are two PDF export methods in InDesign CS5-CS6. See the “Format:” dropdown at the bottom of the Export dialog? You might assume that you would use the “Adobe PDF (Interactive)” option if you are creating a PDF to use online, but the interactive export gives you less control over your PDF, and it does not allow you to save your settings as a preset to use later. ONLY use this option if your InDesign file has clickable buttons or other interactive content that you wish to export to PDF. So we will be using the “Adobe PDF (Print)” option. 

(NOTE: Hyperlinks and Bookmarks, while somewhat “interactive,” are actually available in the PDF (print) export option. Just about the only interactive features you CAN’T include in the PDF(Print) dialog are buttons. Strange, huh? Makes you wonder why Adobe split the PDF export into two several versions ago.)

After you choose a name and location for your new PDF, click Save. You will be taken to the Export options dialog.

At the top of this screen you can select what preset you wish to use. If you wanted to make a high quality PDF, you could simply select the “High Quality Print” preset from the list. Unfortunately, there is not good preset for “Online.” We’ll make one.

PDF Presents save all the settings available in this window. Notice the window is organized into tabs, with many settings on each tab. My goal in this article is not to explain every setting on every tab (although if you wanted to learn I’d be happy to come teach you all about it!) We’ll only cover the settings relevant to making a PDF that is optimized for online use.

  1. The Preset that is closest to what we want is “Smallest File Size,” so we will start by choosing that preset; then we will modify its settings.
  2. On the General tab, turn on “Create Tagged PDF.” These accessibility tags are required for screen reading devices, to ensure that the content is followed in the proper order. They cause a minor increase in file size, but it’s worth it to ensure that your file is accessible (actually a legal requirement for government and some other organizations).
  3.  Still on the General tab, if your document has hyperlinks and bookmarks, enable them so that they are exported. Otherwise they will be omitted.
  4. Turn on “View PDF after Exporting.” That way you don’t have to go find the file after it exports, it will open automatically.
  5. Now click on the Compression tab. You’ll see that the Smallest File Size PDF Preset converts all your images to 100ppi low quality JPGs. In other words, they will look terrible. The bulk of your file size will be taken up in images; depending on your target file size, document length, and complexity you should try to increase these settings to see how much of an increase in image quality and size you can get away with while still meeting your PDF size goal. More on this later.
  6. Once you’ve found your optimal resolution and quality settings, you’ve finished setting up your preset! You can save it for future use by clicking the “Save Preset” button at the bottom of the export settings dialog. Give it a memorable name. It will now appear in the list of presets every time you export a PDF!

So how do you know how much you should increase the size/quality of your images? And should size or quality take precedence?

Well, remember that the target resolution of screen images is 72ppi. with a resolution of 100ppi, this means people will be able to zoom in a little bit on the PDF and the images will still look ok on screen, as far as the size is concerned. However, the JPG compression is a much more serious concern. JPG compression looks like ugly boxy lines jumbling up your image; at low quality, they’ll really make a mess of things. For online use there is never a need to set this to maximum (save that for print-quality PDFs), but you should aim for High if at all possible.

My standard “Online” preset uses 150PPI High Quality for the images. PDFs using that setting look great, they’re reasonably zoomable, and they’re pretty small in file size. I’ll export a PDF using this setting and then look at it’s file size. if it’s too large for what I need, then I’ll export again using 100PPI High Quality. If it’s still too large, then I’ll try 100PPI Medium. You can keep adjusting settings as necessary until you get it just right.

Happy exporting!

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9 Responses to Optimal Online PDF Export Preset

  1. Debi January 10, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    So once you have the presets saved, where are these saved to in order to find and share with my team?

    • Paul Erdman February 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

      Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. You’ve probably already found your answer, but for what it’s worth, I’ve updated the article with the info you needed.

  2. janet February 5, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Beautifully succinct and effective. Thank you.

  3. Beth May 1, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    So is the only downside to exporting as an Interactive pdf that you lose your exporting pdf presets? I’m trying to decide if it will be better for me to create an interactive form in indesign and export as an interactive pdf vs exporting as print and creating the form in acrobat (And having to recreate or copy and paste every time there are updates to the document)

    • Paul Erdman May 8, 2014 at 8:46 am #

      It’s certainly better to make the form in InDesign and use the Interactive export option to make your PDF. This way if (when) you need to update your form, you can easily update the form fields too. It’s much more difficult to do this if you make the form fields separately in Acrobat.

      The ONLY time I recommend using the Interactive PDF option is when your document contains buttons, form fields, or other interactive content that needs to be preserved. Otherwise, use the Print option. The Interactive option doesn’t give you any control over a number of settings that the Print option lets you control.

      • Beth May 8, 2014 at 8:59 am #

        Thanks Paul!

  4. Alex May 15, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    This was exactly what I needed to read! Exporting a 42-page booklet for online viewing. Thank you!

  5. Alex August 24, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Thanks for this! I’ve referenced this article multiple times this year already.


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